I booked a hostel in Porto, Portugal but something happened with the train and it wasn’t leaving. Frustrated, and with five days until my flight from Lisbon to Venice, I made the game-time decision to go south to Sevilla. I booked an Airbnb and my host told me that she would pick me up at the station. Six hours later I took the escalator up from the station in Sevilla and my host was standing at the top, looking very worried and holding out her phone to show everyone a picture of me. I called out her name and she put her hands over her heart and sighed in relief.
Charo, my host, sat in the back seat as her son’s friend drove us to her apartment. They quizzed me about my banjo and I quizzed them about the immigrant population in southern Spain. I heard it was full of Moroccans and oh boy was she glad to open up about it. “Andalusia is full of everyone except Spaniards,” she said.
Charo started feeding me as soon as I walked in the door. The living room was full of young men playing a soccer video game. The song goes, “Sevilla tiene un color especial.” It does. But I had a fever coming and I only wanted to rest.
We sat down and talked about southern Spain; Charo had a way of saying something she thought was clever – she’d turn her body away from me but keep her eyes locked on mine which gave everything she said an air of nonchalantness. She piled food on my plate and when I said no to more butter, or pate, or cake, she would act like she didn’t hear and then bring it out a few minutes later and ask me again. It was impossible to deny. Within fifteen minutes at the table we were deep into a political discussion. (In Chile I lived with two communists and two Pinochet supporters. It was the ultimate training.) It didn’t take long for her to mention Trump with a smile. She offered me more food. “Trump says good things about immigration,” she said. “You’re from there and you’re from there and this, here, is America. It’s different.”
She kept saying some word that sounded like Chinese and then I realized she was saying “Barack Obama.”
“Trump is like this.” She weighs her hands up and down. “Barack Obama, no. Barack Obama is very clear. Trump, no. But the reason I like Trump is because he says that Americans are Americans. Here, in Andalusia, it’s full of Chinese, of Arabs, whatever group that isn’t Spanish.”
“I was in Alcalá de Henares yesterday,” I said. “There was a statue dedicated to the victims of the metro bombing a while back. Where were they from?”
“All Moroccans. They’re all Moroccans, Iraqis, Iranians, all from that place. And all day, every day they come in. And now you have that dictator in the Asia.”
“In North Korea?”
“In North Korea. And what does Trump say? What? Huh? What does Trump say? That if you mess with America, we’re going to drop allllllll the bombs on top of you. So how do you want to do it?” Her body swayed and her eyebrows went up. “Very good. Verrrrrrrrrry good.” (This is something I encountered all over Europe; while everyone seems to be reveling in American political dysfunction, they all want Trump to wipe North Korea off the map.)
“And who else? The Russian. Putin. I like Putin. Putin, like this,” she karate chops her hand down. “I like him. I like Barack Obama the most. He is a good man. I like him, but Trump, I like Trump because of the way he acts. But he’s not a clear person. He’s the type of person who says, ‘Oh you can have this, I can give you this, oh you’re such a beautiful woman.'”
“But you like him most because of what he wants to do with immigrants?”
“Yes,” her son responded.
“But listen, James, listen to me.”
“Ok listen. Listen. If the immigrants come legally, the way that my mother came from France, my mother came when she was 15 years old. My mother came with vaccines, my mother came with papers. Ok. But if you come in a raft, rape our women, kill our children, and above all this I’m telling you,” she shakes her head and claps her hands and said, “No.”
Somehow during this exchange an enormous bowl of gazpacho appeared in front of me and I started dipping a baguette.
“There was an event a few years ago,” she continued on. “An event with Moroccans where a little girl was raped and killed. This is why we look at the Americans and like it. Why don’t Spaniards vote for the death penalty? Why don’t we make it a law? I don’t know. You kill my children? I kill you. Point for point!”
God damnit that Gazpacho was so good. And somehow a sandwich was in front of me now.
“But it’s all because the King. Our King loves Morocco,” she said. “He has a good relationship with the King of Morocco.”
“He has no power?” I asked.
“No power,” said her son.
Charo tossed a hand in the air and said, “Our King is a faggot.”
“Why are they interested?” I asked. “The Spanish people listen to him?”
“Kind of. But a lot of people are angry because we pay him.”
“You pay him how?”
“With our taxes.”
The Crown is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s one of best written, most beautifully shot and acted shows of all time, but there’s more than that. I always quizzed Katy on how Brits felt about the British Monarchy and she said, “Like, Jim, to be honest I never even think about them.” As Americans, the idea of a constitutional Monarch is as alien as Vegemite. But political impartiality. What does that even mean? How can it exist? Moreover, a politically impartial leader. A respected and powerful voice that refuses to take sides. Perhaps this adds to my fascination with John Bercow. His impartiality as Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain was strained to the breaking point when Donald Trump imposed the original travel ban and he expressed such disgust at the idea of an official visit by our president that he was forced to apologize to the Queen. I love the idea of a politically impartial figure. But the idea of a politically impartial leader whose entire existence is funded by American tax dollars is so laughably ridiculous that the thought of it sent 1776 era heat into my veins to boil my blood.
I played banjo for them that night and went to bed early. I was so exhausted from the pace of the trip so far that I wanted to stay in my room and watch Neflix the whole time. I watched Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs.
I decided to go down to Morocco the next day. Charo lost her mind when I told her and she sat me down and shouted off about how dangerous and dirty it was.
“Oh James, oh JAMES,” she said over and over. “How would I get down there?” she asked me.
“I”m gonna take the boat from Tarifa,” I replied. She practically fainted.
Her son (who followed me everywhere I went) took me to the bus station to buy tickets. I guess he thought I wanted a tour of the city but I was still so tired that after a few castles and look-outs I begged him to take me back.
I only went to Morocco for a day but when I returned to Sevilla and knocked on her door, Charo wrapped her arms around me. “James,” she said “Oh James. Oh James. My love. My child. I’m so glad to have you back.” We all had dinner together and I played banjo songs late into the night.